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The start of the 2023 harvests expected to improve food access across Zimbabwe

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Zimbabwe
  • February - September 2023
The start of the 2023 harvests expected to improve food access across Zimbabwe

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  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • Seasonal calendar for a typical year
  • Areas of Concern
  • Key Messages
    • In typical deficit-producing areas, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are likely to persist until the start of the harvest in April 2023. In the surplus-producing areas’ communal areas and resettlement areas Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are expected to continue through the outlook period, respectively. Following the harvest, most typical deficit-producing areas are expected to improve to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) through September, with at least one in five poor households expected to meet their basic food needs but be unlikely to meet other food and non-food needs. Most northern surplus-producing areas will experience Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes through the outlook period, with urban areas likely to be Stressed (IPC Phase 2).

    • Crop conditions have significantly improved following favorable rainfall in the northern and typical surplus-producing areas during the second half of the 2022/23 rainy season. However, in some areas water logging, caused by persistent rainfall, has rendered some fields unworkable, resulting in soil leaching, weed infestation and the poor application of fertilizers and chemicals. In the south, improvements in water, pasture, and some crop conditions have been recorded despite poor rainfall distribution, with some of the crop experiencing water stress. Nationally, the upcoming harvests may be affected by general input access challenges, below-normal cropped areas for some areas, dry spells in the south, and excessive rainfall in some northern areas.

    • The macroeconomic environment has remained generally volatile and is likely to remain so during the outlook period despite some relative stability at the end of 2022. The local currency (ZWL) has continued to depreciate against the USD in formal and informal markets, where goods and services are increasingly priced in USD or ZAR. Additionally, the prices of goods and services continue to increase, even in USD, a trend that is likely to persist. A January 2023 ZIMSTAT survey report indicated that almost 80 percent of transactions for food purchases are in USD, with the rest in ZWL. Despite progressive declines in monthly and annual inflation over the last few months, the cost of living remains very high. Poor households continue to struggle to meet their food and non-food needs. According to the World Bank, Zimbabwe’s January 2023 real annual food inflation rate in ZWL was 121 percent, the highest in the world.

    • Households are relying on seasonal agricultural casual labor for income in many areas, especially in the north, but opportunities are expected to remain below normal due to liquidity challenges. To earn income, some households in rural and urban areas are increasing their reliance on petty trade, but incomes will likely trend below normal due to high competition and below-normal demand. Livestock sales are also likely to be impacted by below-normal demand despite improvements in livestock conditions. Additionally, domestic and foreign remittances are expected to remain below normal due to liquidity challenges and the residence and work permit difficulties faced by some Zimbabweans in South Africa.


    National Overview

    Current Situation

    In January and February, most northern areas of the country continued to receive good rainfall, enhancing crop conditions and improving production prospects. However, persistent rainfall in some of these areas has waterlogged heavy soils and leached nutrients from sandy and loamy soils. Persistent rainfall has also brought poor weed control to some areas due to unworkable fields as well as low fertilizer and other chemical applications. 

    The rainfall has also led to or increased road damage in many parts of the country, negatively impacting transport services and leading to higher transport costs.

    However, in most southern areas, especially Masvingo, Matabeleland South, parts of Manicaland and Midlands, and also Matabeleland North Province, the rainfall has continued to be erratic and poorly distributed, negatively impacting agricultural activities (Figure 1). Below-average cropped areas have been reported in some areas due in part to poor access to inputs and prolonged dry spells. Crops in some of these areas have been water stressed, with wilting reported in the worst-affected areas. However, the crops that survived have seen the rainfall in February improve their condition.

    In general, most early planted crops are in the early-to-late reproductive growth stages across the country, and green consumption is slowly increasing. However, late-planted crops are in the early to late vegetative growth stages.

    In late December 2022, the government announced a pre-planting producer price of 335 USD/MT for maize and small grains for the 2023/24 marketing season, instead of ZWL prices as in past years, as an incentive for farmers to increase production. Similarly, producer prices for soybeans and sunflower were announced in USD to enhance local production and reduce imports of crude cooking oil. However, the announcement likely did not significantly impact the planted area as many farmers had already planted their land.

    Tobacco and cotton, the main cash crops, are reported to be in good condition across most areas. The foreign currency retention component (the percentage of foreign currency a farmer can receive as payment) for both crops has been increased to 85 percent for this coming marketing season, up from 75 percent last season. The USD cotton producer price for this coming season has also been increased by an average 43 percent. 

    Pasture and livestock conditions have significantly improved with the rainfall in northern areas and elsewhere. However, heavy rainfall in these areas is posing some challenges for some farmers, including localized outbreaks of livestock diseases. For example, over 400 cattle deaths have been reported this season in the southern districts of the Midlands Province due to Theileriosis (January disease), a seasonal blood parasite transmitted by ticks. However, Theileriosis-related deaths have reportedly reduced compared to the last few years. Livestock prices are at near-normal levels but due to depressed demand, livestock sales - an important income source across the country- are at below-normal levels.

    Dam levels have also seen significant improvements, especially in northern areas. As of February 27, the Zimbabwe National Water Authority reported a national average dam level of over 90 percent compared to the typical 70 percent for this time of the year. Additionally, over 50 percent of the major dams are full and spilling over. Major supply dams in the south have also rapidly increased to over 60 percent following heavy rainfall from mid-to-late February.

    With the 2022/23 lean season currently at its peak, own-produced food stocks are long-depleted for most households in typical deficit-producing areas. Poor households are relying on market purchases, humanitarian assistance, and bartering to access food. Maize grain availability on most open markets, particularly in typical deficit-producing areas, remains scarce, with prices in February increasing in USD by about 15 percent. Maize grain prices in most southern areas are 7 to 8 USD/kg in February, up from 6 USD/kg in December and January. These prices are higher than prices in February 2022 (following a good season), but near normal. However, own-produced household maize stocks remain available in some surplus-producing areas in the north, with some farmers still supplying the markets, but at below-normal levels. Price increases are also being recorded for basic commodities such as maize meal, vegetable oil, wheat flour, and sugar in ZWL and in USD in January and February.

    The macroeconomic situation continues to be volatile, as marked by the continued depreciation of the local currency in formal and informal markets following relatively short-lived stability towards the end of 2022 (Figure 2). Parallel market rates have increased by nearly 30 percent since the end of December 2022, trading as high as 1,200 ZWL/USD by the end of February. In late February, the official auction system rate has seen a 13 percent rise since late January and is trading at 882 ZWL/USD. The interbank rate, which is commonly used with up to a 10 percent allowable increase for transactions, has also risen by about 15 percent from the end of January to 972 ZWL/USD at the end of February.

    Annual inflation for January 2023, as reported by ZIMSTAT, remains high at 229.8 percent despite a progressive decline since August 2022. Monthly inflation reduced from 2.4 percent in December to 1.1 percent in January. However, the cost of living has increased marginally and continues to be very high, continuing to impose food access challenges, particularly for poorer households (Figure 3). According to the World Bank, Zimbabwe had the highest year-on-year real food inflation (ZWL) globally at 121 percent in January. Additionally, ZIMSTAT’s eighth round Rapid Poverty, Income, Consumption and Expenditure Survey (PICES) report published in January 2023, using data collected in July and August 2022, indicates that 78 percent of food purchase transactions were conducted in foreign currency.

    Fuel prices marginally increased in February and remain the highest in the Southern African region, contributing significantly to high prices and price increases for goods and services. Recurrent power cuts have also increased production costs and livelihood challenges.

    Figure 2

    Foreign currency exchange rates, January 2021 to February 2023
    Foreign currency exchange rates in Zimbabwe, January 2021 to February 2023. Described under heading Current Situation.

    Source: ZIMSTAT, FEWS NET

    Figure 3

    Food and total consumption poverty lines per person, January 2021 to January 2023
    Food and total consumption poverty lines per person in Zimbabwe, January 2021 to January 2023. Described under heading Current Situation.

    Source: ZIMSTAT

    Generally, livelihoods and household income remain constrained for most poor households. Seasonal casual labor opportunities have improved, especially in northern areas, but persistent rainfall is affecting potential agricultural labor opportunities. Agricultural labor rates and in-kind payments remain below normal due to liquidity challenges and last season’s below-normal crop production. Poorly distributed rainfall in southern areas has also affected labor availability, typically a main source of income this time of the year.

    Remittance levels continue at below-normal levels due to macroeconomic challenges, especially in the southern areas, as some Zimbabweans in South Africa continue to face emigration and work status challenges. To earn income, some households in urban and rural areas are engaging in petty trade activities at above normal levels. Informal artisanal mining is high across most parts of the country, though in some areas, this activity is hampered by persistent rainfall. The harvesting and sale of seasonal domestic and wild fruits and vegetables are also providing some household income, especially among poor households, though high competition is negatively impacting potential earnings.

    Food consumption is mainly poor among poor households who because they lack the means to purchase adequate food, have reduced meal portion sizes and the number of meals per day. In areas receiving significant humanitarian assistance, some of the worst affected households are relying on this assistance as a main source of food. In some areas, households across the wealth groups are supplementing their consumption with seasonal domestic and wild fruits and vegetables. As of the end of February, consumption of the early planted green crops is beginning.

    Humanitarian assistance from the government covers 52 out of the 60 rural districts, with a target of nearly 3 million beneficiaries per month, each receiving 10 kg of cereal. Additionally, WFP is targeting nearly 702,000 beneficiaries in eight rural districts, distributing 8.5 kg cereal, 1.7 kg pulses, and 0.6 kg vegetable oil per beneficiary per month. However, logistical challenges are reported in some areas due to impassable roads.

    Current Food Security Outcomes

    In most typical deficit-producing areas, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are present. Poor households are market dependent, but the high food prices and limited access to income are driving households to increase their engagement in coping strategies indicative of Crisis (IPC Phase 3). In the communal areas of the surplus-producing areas, area-level Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes prevail. Poor households are earning income from agricultural labor opportunities, but the high cost of living is limiting households’ access to non-food items. In the more productive resettlement areas, Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are present as the ongoing agricultural season and normal access to income and food are maintaining access to food and non-food items.


    Seasonal calendar for a typical year
    Seasonal calendar for a typical year for Zimbabwe.

    Source: FEWS NET

    Assumptions

    The most likely scenario from February to September 2023 is based on the following national-level assumptions:

    • In typical deficit-producing areas, most households have long since exhausted their own-produced cereal stocks and are expected to rely on a combination of purchases and humanitarian assistance until the start of the upcoming harvest in April/May 2023. In typical surplus-producing areas, own-produced cereal stocks are expected to remain available in high-producing resettlement areas but are depleted in communal areas. However, the start of the harvest is expected to improve food availability and consumption of own-produced crops across the country through September 2023.
    • The availability of maize grain in the markets of typical deficit-producing rural areas and in some urban open markets is expected to continue at below-normal levels through March/April, with some markets in remote areas such as Matabeleland North and South and parts of Masvingo Provinces having limited to no stocks of maize grain. However, maize meal, and in some areas, small grains, are likely to be available substitutes. Open-market maize grain supplies are expected to improve following the harvests through September.  
    • Maize grain prices in USD are expected to remain normal in surplus-producing areas and some typical deficit-producing areas. However, prices in some remote areas are expected to be above normal due to limited supply, poor road conditions, and high fuel and transportation costs. Prices in deficit-producing areas are likely to be 50 to 100 percent higher than in surplus-producing areas. Maize grain prices are expected to follow seasonal trends, reducing following the harvest in April/May before gradually increasing through September as own-produced stocks deplete and market demand increases. Maize grain prices in ZWL will be influenced by parallel market exchange rates, likely keeping prices above normal in most markets throughout the outlook period.
    • Maize meal supply across the country is expected to be normal throughout the outlook period. Commercial millers are likely to continue relying on either GMB purchases or their own imports of maize grain through March/April. With the start of the harvests in April, maize grain imports are likely to stop or be suspended. The government is likely to maintain the suspension of maize meal imports instituted in November 2022 to protect local millers from cheap imports.
    • Maize meal prices in USD are expected to remain normal through the outlook period; however, prices in ZWL will be above average due to the influence of the parallel market exchange rates.
    • The macroeconomic situation will likely remain poor through the outlook period. Parallel market exchange rates, the prime driver of ZWL price hikes and inflation, are likely to keep increasing throughout the outlook period. The official and interbank rates are also expected to continue to rise but remain below parallel market rates. The government is not expected to repeat last year’s drastic intervention in the parallel market exchange rates, and will likely leave the market to determine the rates.   
    • Continued shortages of ZWL cash are likely to result in continued high charges being imposed on non-cash ZWL payments using mobile money/electronic transfers, resulting in ZWL price increases on basic commodities and services. These price increases are expected to impact the purchasing power of mainly poor households in both formal and informal sectors.  
    • Fuel prices are expected to remain high but stable throughout the outlook period, contributing to the high prices of goods and services. Inflationary pressures from other non-fuel drivers like utility rates, transportation, and other production costs are expected to remain. 
    • Normal to above-normal rainfall is expected across the country through March, which is likely to support average crop production if it is well distributed across the remainder of the season. Crop recovery is expected in typical deficit-producing areas that recorded earlier dry spells. However, affected areas may record lower-than-expected yields. 
    • The 2022/23 cropped area for maize and small grains in some southern areas is likely to be below last year, though likely near-normal. The potential area reflects poor rainfall progression in some areas, as well as access challenges to crop inputs. Crop input prices are expected to remain significantly above average both in USD and ZWL.
    • Agricultural labor opportunities are expected to improve with the favorable rainfall forecast through March across the country, but liquidity challenges and the below-normal 2022 harvest will limit cash and in-kind payments. Labor opportunities and rates may also improve during the post-harvest period as some middle/better-off households use crop sale proceeds to pay in cash or in-kind. Non-agricultural labor opportunities and wage rates are expected to remain below average levels throughout the outlook period.
    • Water access and availability for livestock and other livelihoods are expected to improve across the country through the end of the rainy season. However, rivers and reservoirs in some drier parts of the country are expected to be below normal levels, negatively impacting availability and access during the dry season. 
    • Pasture conditions are expected to improve across the country, positively impacting livestock conditions. However, beyond the rainy season, pasture conditions in arid areas are likely to quickly deteriorate. Livestock disease prevalence will likely remain high due to above-average prices and limited access to drugs. Income from livestock sales will continue to be impacted by liquidity challenges, poor demand, and poor care practices that impact livestock body conditions.
    • Although formal inflows of remittances have continued to be above average at the national level, both cash and in-kind remittances to poorer households through formal and informal channels will remain below average due to macroeconomic impacts locally, unstable livelihoods for some migrants in South Africa, and an increase in returnees as uncertainty remains over work permits. Returnee migrants are likely to cause additional strain on receiving households and local communities.
    • Informal cross-border trade is expected to remain below normal levels, despite some improvements following the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions in 2022.  
    • Engagement in petty trade as a livelihood and coping strategy is expected to remain above average. However, low consumer demand and increased competition will significantly constrain opportunities, and income will therefore likely remain below average.
    • Informal mining will be affected by rainfall through March in some areas, but engagement will remain high through the outlook period across the country as has been typical over the recent years.
    • Vegetable production and sale will increase after the 2023 main crop harvests as farmers focus on horticultural production. Anticipated above-normal dam levels particularly in high-rainfall northern areas are likely to promote winter and dry season crop production, enhancing incomes for engaging farmers and communities.
    • The harvesting, sale, and consumption of seasonal wild products such as fruits, wild vegetables, mushrooms, Mopane worms, and thatch grass are likely to be at normal to above normal levels in most areas during the outlook period, supported by normal to above normal rainfall. However, income will likely be below normal due to liquidity challenges.  
    • Information on humanitarian food assistance deliveries is insufficient to conduct an analysis of its likely impact. As such, food assistance is not incorporated into the analysis of projected food security outcomes. However, the distribution of humanitarian assistance from the government and WFP is expected to end after March 2023 with the start of the harvest.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    In typical deficit-producing areas, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes will likely persist through the end of the peak lean season in March. Green consumption, likely to start near the end of February in areas with early-planted crops, is likely supplementing household food consumption. As the main 2023 harvests begin in April/May, food availability and access to own-produced crops will improve consumption and food security outcomes to Stressed (IPC Phase 2). However, the high prices of goods will limit household access to non-food needs. Since the projection period from February to May is split between the peak of the lean season and the post-harvest period, FEWS NET maps reflect the worst outcomes between February and March. Almost all these areas are expected to remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2) between June and September due to improved consumption from own harvests, and increased income from some crop and livestock sales. However, a few of the districts worst affected by the dry spells in the south are expected to experience Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes beginning in August/September as poor households’ very limited own-produced stocks deplete, and as access to markets will be constrained by poor income and above-normal prices.  

    In urban areas of the country, poorer households are likely to be able to meet their minimum food needs but will continue to experience increasing difficulty accessing other foods and non-food needs, resulting in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes due to the impact of the macroeconomic challenges. In particular, the below-average income, above-average prices, and the increasing cost of living will likely limit access to non-food items.

    In the more productive surplus-producing areas, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected in the communal areas through March, with the high-producing resettlement areas maintaining Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes. However, with the start of the harvests in April/May most of the communal areas will improve to Minimal (IPC Phase 1), as the harvest improves household food consumption and access to income from crop sales. The resettlement areas are also expected to remain in Minimal (IPC Phase 1) with the start of the harvest. However, for the February to May period, the communal areas will be mapped as Stressed (IPC Phase 2), representing the worse-off outcomes during February and March. From June to September 2023, communal and resettlement areas are expected to maintain Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes supported by income from the sale of subsistence and cash crops and other typical income sources.

    Events that might change the outlook

    Table 1
    Possible events over the next eight months that could change the most-likely scenario.
    AreaEventImpact on food security outcomes
    NationalGovernment measures to stem continued devaluation of the local currency and price increases, including price controlsThis will likely reduce the increases in prices slightly and improve access to basic food and other commodities for poor households. However, as income levels for poor households remain below normal, the overall impact may be minimal.
    NationalSignificantly above normal rainfall, including cyclones, through the end of the rainfall seasonSignificantly above normal rainfall, including cyclones, will likely result in flooding and destroy crops, livestock, homes, and road and transport infrastructure affecting household access to food and income. Heavy rainfall will also likely negatively impact the 2023 crop harvests, income from crop sales, transport services and costs, worsening anticipated food security outcomes in affected areas, and increasing the population in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).    
    Southern areasBelow normal rainfall through the end of the rainfall seasonBelow-normal rainfall will affect water availability through September, negatively impacting typical seasonal livelihoods such as vegetable production and sales, brick molding and construction, livestock conditions and sales, and sale of wild products; below-normal seasonal incomes may result in an earlier than normal start of the 2023/24 lean season and an increase in the population facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes.

    Areas of Concern

    Western Kalahari Sandveld Communal Livelihoods Zone – Focus on Tsholotsho District (Figure 4)

    Current Situation

    This livelihood zone is in western Zimbabwe and includes most of Tsholotsho District, a few wards in northern Hwange District, and the northern parts of Bulilima District. These three districts are among the most drought-prone and chronically food insecure districts in the country and are characterized by infertile Kalahari Sands and low annual mean rainfall (450-650 mm). The main crops grown are pearl millet and sorghum, with farmers also growing maize, groundnuts, cowpeas, and watermelons. Livestock holdings are generally higher than other parts of Zimbabwe, with households keeping cattle, goats, donkeys, and chickens. Labor migration to South Africa and Botswana, as well as remittances, are an important part of local livelihoods. Additional information on the major characteristics of the zone can be found in the Zimbabwe Rural Livelihood Baseline Profiles.

    Figure 4

    Western Kalahari Sandveld Communal Livelihood Zone
    Map showing Western Kalahari Sandveld Communal Livelihood Zone in Zimbabwe.

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 5

    CHIRPS pentadal rainfall, Tsholotsho District, October 2022 to February 2023
    Line chart showing CHIRPS pentadal rainfall, Tsholotsho District, October 2022 to February 2023. Described under the heading Current Situation.

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET

    In Tsholotsho District, farmers planted in late November following a delayed start to the 2022/23 rainy season. Effective rainfall for planting was received at the end of November, while rainfall in the first half of December prompted increased, though subdued, planting across most wards. However, a dry spell from mid-December through January further reduced planting rates, resulting in the area planted to cereal being below expectations (Figure 5). Due to the lack of effective rainfall, crop germination was also generally poor. However, most poor farmers were unable to replant due to a lack of available seed stocks.   

    Earlier in the season, farmers who had prepared Intwasa (conservation agriculture) planting holes received 2 kg sorghum, 1 kg pearl millet, 2 kg maize seed, and 50 kg each for basal fertilizers under the Presidential Crop Input Scheme. However, some farmers used retained seeds.

    Access to draught power for planting was also a significant challenge for farmers across most wards due to the poor body condition of donkeys and cattle following the dry season. Additionally, very few households could afford to hire tractors from the District Development Fund (DDF), which cost 70 USD and 20 liters of diesel per hectare, or from individuals who charge more than the DDF.

    In December, some household members also invested more time harvesting amacimbi/Mopane worms (Gonimbrasia belina) rather than planting. The amacimbi, a protein-rich delicacy and a potential source of income, were available in above normal quantities this season. Key informants report there was above-normal harvesting and selling of amacimbi in Wards 13, 15, and 20 in December and January. Villagers from other wards also travelled to these wards or neighboring districts to harvest the amacimbi, which are also typically harvested in April/May. The delicacy is being sold locally or to buyers from other areas, including Bulawayo and even Harare, with some exported to South Africa. A 20-liter tin of amacimbi sells for 250 ZAR (15 USD) locally, with traders selling the same bucket at 20-25 USD (400-500 ZAR), a 5-liter tin for 5 USD (85 ZAR), and a “standard” cup for 10 ZAR (about 0.60 USD). 

    Additionally, other households did not plant as the cost of production is higher than relying on food and cash remittances from family members in South Africa. Lower plantings were also reported in Wards 7, 8, and 10 which are predominantly inhabited by the San people who are traditionally hunter-gathers.

    Fall Armyworm (FAW) has observed across some wards of the district with the reported impact varying from bad to minimal. Some farmers did not apply any control measures due to a lack of money to buy chemicals, while others used innovative measures such as applying ash. Human-wildlife conflicts are also common in some wards, particularly Wards 1, 4, 7, 8, and parts of 10, which are close to national parks. Elephants are a perennial hazard to crops, as are lions and hyenas to livestock and humans.

    However, water access has improved across most parts of the district. Water pans are the most common seasonal source of water, especially for livestock and other sources of food and income like gardening and construction. Unfortunately, most water pans, enhanced weirs, or small dams have become heavily silted over the years which has reduced their holding capacities. Boreholes remain a main source of water for domestic use, though some are dysfunctional due to lack of or poor maintenance.

    Pastures have generally improved across most wards and are in fair condition. However, one main challenge is shrub/bush encroachment in pasture areas. Cattle and donkeys are in fair body conditions, with goats in good condition. There are no organized livestock markets, such as council-controlled markets, in the district. Poor households are selling small stock (chicken and goats), with cattle being sold by middle and better-off households. Livestock sales are taking place privately with local buyers as well as traders mainly from Bulawayo. Key informants indicate that traders prefer to move stock during the night to avoid council levies and the police. Cattle are selling for 3,000 to 3,500 ZAR (175 to 250 USD), with larger cattle selling for 4,500 ZAR (265 USD). Goat prices range from 500 to 800 ZAR (~30 to 50 USD) depending on size, while indigenous chickens sell for 100 to 120 ZAR (6-7 USD). The sale of livestock was notably above normal in January as households prepared for their children to go to school in the new school year. Prices for most goods and services in the district are pegged in ZAR. The ZWL local currency is very unpopular with retailers and traders. The USD is accepted begrudgingly and change for USD payments is almost always in ZAR. The prevailing exchange rate at the end of February was 1 USD: 17 or 17.5 ZAR, 1 USD/1,000 ZWL (cash, electronic or mobile money), and 1 ZAR: 55 ZWL.

    Most poor households have long exhausted their own-produced cereals. Some key informants indicated that only 20 to 30 percent of district households are likely to be cereal self-sufficient through March 2023, the majority in Wards 6, 13, 20, and 22 which are high small-grain production wards. There is no maize grain in most markets in the district, including at Tsholotsho Centre, though very limited quantities can be sourced at community level in a few wards at 100 ZAR (~6-7 USD) per 17.5 kg bucket. Pearl millet is slightly more readily available at the same price, with sorghum not readily available since fewer communities and households grow sorghum. In the more remote parts of the district, cereal grain prices are as high as 150 ZAR (almost 9 USD) per 17.5 kg bucket.

    Maize meal is available in some retail centers across the wards but unavailable in others. However, maize meal purchases are high across most wards as demand peaks. Where unavailable locally, household members travel, sometimes over long distances, to the business centers where stocks are available. Maize meal is selling for 85 to 100 ZAR (5-6 USD) per 10kg bag, which is a typical price. Local brands are sourced mainly from Bulawayo. Imported maize meal brands are available in some retail outlets across some wards despite the import ban in November 2022. Imported stocks are brought in by informal transporters, with some retailers sourcing directly from South Africa. Such imported goods are usually relatively lower priced than locally procured goods, resulting in a growing number of households sending cash remittances to purchase food rather than in-kind remittances from South Africa.

    Remittances are a significant source of food and income for many households in the Tsholotsho District. In some villages, almost all households have at least one family member based or working in South Africa or Botswana. However, households report that not all emigrants send back remittances and that the frequency and amount of remittances received are highly variable. The in-kind remittances usually consist of basic foods (flour, cooking oil, sugar, pasta, maize meal, and drinks), among other commodities. Overall, households report that local remittances from different parts of the country are below normal due to the prevailing macroeconomic situation.

    Vegetable production and sale is also a source of income for some households, with a bundle of leaf vegetables selling for 10 ZAR (about 0.60 USD). However, vegetable markets are limited, with a council-managed “greens” market operating at Tsholotsho Centre on Mondays. The traders are mainly farmers from the neighboring Umguza District (Nyamandlovu area) who sell horticultural produce such as green mealies, tomatoes, onions, butternuts, cabbages, and fruits like bananas and mangoes. The produce is cheaper than typical local traders, and demand is high. However, the market mainly serves Tsholotsho Centre and a few close-by wards.

    Some households are earning income from casual labor opportunities such as weeding. A 0.1-hectare portion of cropland, locally called “umfolo,” earns around 150 ZWL (about 9 USD) for weeding and 100 ZAR (~ 6 USD) for plowing. Alternatively, in-kind payment for weeding the umfolo is usually a 17.5kg bucket of cereal. Also, some household members are earning income from herding cattle and looking after other people’s homesteads, particularly if the owner is in South Africa or Botswana.

    Petty trading is also common across the district, especially at main business centers. Traders typically sell vegetables and fruits, clothing items, grocery items, utensils, and other household and personal items, though income is below normal due to high competition and constrained demand. Bricks molded before the start of the rains are also sold. Common burnt bricks retail at 1.50 ZAR (about 0.09 USD) per brick, with cement blocks going for 8 to 10 ZAR (about 0.47-0.60 USD) each. Self-employment activities also include building and construction works, though liquidity challenges are constraining demand for such services. Thatching of traditional huts costs around 800 ZAR (about 47 USD) for labor only with the paying household supplying the thatch grass. Some household members are also gathering and selling firewood, especially at business centers, schools, and clinics. Traders also barter their goods for grain, particularly small grains.

    Transport costs are above normal and are negatively impacting some livelihoods and access to markets, especially for poor households. The bus fare from Tsholotsho to Bulawayo is 70 to 80 ZAR (~4 to 5 USD), while informal car rides cost around 120 ZAR (7 USD) for the 120-kilometer trip. The poor state of the main road between Tsholotsho and Bulawayo does partly result in the high fares. The mobile phone network in Tsholotsho District is generally poor, which impacts communication and market access and activities. Frequent electricity cuts are also experienced in the district, which impacts economic activity and livelihoods.

    Dietary diversity and food consumption among poor households are currently poor due to the non-availability of own-produced stocks and constrained income and access to markets. Between February and March, the government plans to reach over 66,000 beneficiaries with 10kg of cereal per beneficiary per month. Child Care Ministries is targeting all primary schools with wet feeding (cooked meals) during school days and dry feeding (food packages for home preparation and consumption) during holidays. The Amalima Loko program implemented by Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA) in the district is distributing Corn Soya Blend (CSB) meal to pregnant and lactating women and under-five year olds in targeted wards of the district. 

    Assumptions

    In addition to the national-level assumptions, the following assumptions apply to this area of concern:

    • Small grain production is expected at near-normal levels and will likely sustain own-produced food consumption for at least four months for poor households.
    • The wildlife/predator threat to crops and livestock is expected to remain high in wards close to the national parks.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    In February and March – the peak of the lean season - food access is expected to remain poor due to depleted and limited own-produced stocks, high reliance on markets, and low purchasing power due to limited access to income and above-normal food prices. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to prevail through March due to anticipated humanitarian assistance being limited and the green harvest only supplementing households diets and not filling food consumption gaps. However, with the start of the harvest in April and May 2023, household food access is expected to improve. Households will increase their reliance on own-produced food stocks while reducing their reliance on markets for food purchases. Access to agricultural casual labor and limited crop sales and other income sources are also expected to improve household income and access to foods and other basic commodities and services, driving Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes.

    From June to September, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected to prevail, supported by increased availability and consumption of own-produced foods following the main harvests. Some households are likely to continue to sell some of their crops to buy other required food and non-food items. For some poor households, own-produced cereal stocks are expected to dwindle by September, increasing reliance on market purchases, but cereal stocks at the markets in the district are expected to be limited. Other seasonal sources of food and income are expected to be available to poor households, such as the production and sale of vegetables, livestock sales, casual labor (paid in cash and in-kind), self-employment, and petty trade. Income from these sources is expected to support poor households purchasing their food needs, but high prices are likely to minimize non-food purchases. Additionally, remittances are expected to be seasonally low, though still a notable source of food or income for some households.

    Matabeleland Middleveld Communal Livelihood Zone – Focus on Mberengwa District (Figure 6)

    Current Situation

    Figure 6

    Matabeleland Middleveld Communal Livelihood Zone
    Map showing Matabeleland Middleveld Communal Livelihood Zone.

    Source: FEWS NET

    The livelihood zone covers the low-lying areas and some mountainous parts of Matobo, Gwanda, Umguza, Bubi, Umzingwane, Insiza, and Mberengwa Districts. Livelihoods in this zone are characterized by animal husbandry - mainly cattle rearing - as well as limited farming of food and cash crops, local employment, and gold panning. Rain-fed cultivation of maize and other small grains also occurs, but the lack of organic and inorganic fertilizers renders harvests low to moderate. Poor households with small herd sizes and small land holdings depend mainly on seasonal employment and gold panning to earn cash to purchase food. For more information, refer to Zimbabwe Rural Livelihood Baseline Profile.

    By the second week of October 2022, less than 20mm of rainfall was recorded in some wards. However, some farmers took advantage of these first rains to prepare their fields. Effective rainfall for planting, received in early November, was above last year’s and the long-term average (Figure 7). However, in mid-November a two-week dry spell, compounded by high temperatures, slowed down the rate of planting. In December and January, dry spells and below-average rainfall  further impacted plantings, exerting water stress on crops.  

    Figure 7

    CHIRPS pentadal rainfall, Mberengwa District, October 2022 to February 2023
    Line chart showing CHIRPS pentadal rainfall, Mberengwa District, October 2022 to February 2023. Described under heading Current Situation.

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET

    Due to above-normal crop input prices, most households relied on the government support. However, some farmers still used retained seeds for planting, which in most cases also did not cover planting needs. The district targeted around 60,000 households for inputs, but some inputs (seeds and fertilizers) were reportedly in short supply. Farmers planted maize and small grains, as well as groundnuts, round nuts, cowpeas, and sweet potatoes. Overall, the area cropped is reportedly average but below last year.

    Seasonal pools, streams, and rivers are currently providing water for livestock, which no longer must trek over long distances to water points. Pastures have also improved with the start of the rains. However, in most areas, the pastures have poorly rejuvenated due to recurrent past droughts and overgrazing. Cattle are in fair to good condition though most farmers are struggling to access veterinary drugs due to the high prices and relatively limited access to income. Some key informants have reported tick resistance to dipping chemicals, contributing to a build-up of tick infestation in the district. In particular, the deadly January disease was reported in the district this year, a very unusual development as it is typically not found in the district. The government has provided more dipping chemicals and tick grease in affected areas and encouraged farmers to adopt regular and frequent dipping regimes.

    Most households in Mberengwa District have exhausted their food stocks from the 2022 harvest and are relying on market purchases for food. Maize and small grains are not available in most local markets in the districts, partly due to below-normal 2022 production and restrictions on moving large quantities of grain. A few traders occasionally visit and sell maize at the main service centers (Mberengwa and Mataga). Farmer-to-farmer sales of maize grain are sporadic and significantly below normal. Maize currently sells at 8 USD per 17.5 kg bucket. Most households rely on local and imported brands of maize meal, sold in local shops. Maize meal prices are stable at an average of 0.6 USD/kg.

    Parallel market exchange rates are following national trends, contributing to ZWL price increases for most basic commodities. All basic commodities in local shops are indexed in USD or ZAR; even in these currencies, however, some commodities are seeing marginal price increases. The impact is of these increases, however, is low, since even poor households - except around Mberengwa Center in the north - make very limited use of the ZWL, with income  in USD.

    Households are increasingly engaged in petty trading, particularly at and around the main service centers. However, demand has remained low due to low liquidity among better-off households. There are monthly mobile market days at central markets in every ward, which bring traders across the country selling goods such as groceries, household items, and crop inputs. These markets have created opportunities for local households to sell goods such as vegetables and crops from gardens and irrigated land. .

    The district does not have formal livestock markets, so farmers mostly sell livestock to private traders from Mberengwa, Bulawayo, and Zvishavane, and occasionally on a farmer-to-farmer basis. Poor households are selling mainly chickens and goats. Chicken prices range from 5-7 USD, and goats between 35-40 USD. Cattle sell from 400-500 USD a head, which are favorable prices due to the prevailing fair to good cattle body conditions.

    The major livelihood activities include casual agricultural labor, informal mining, vegetable sales, and petty trading. Seasonal agricultural labor, such as weeding, is currently the main activity. Most households receive in-kind payment (mainly groceries) and cash. However, only a few households have the capacity to pay for labor as 2022 crop stocks are exhausted and middle and better-off households have limited liquidity.

    Currently, some poor households are selling vegetables such as tomatoes and leaf vegetables from their gardens. However, vegetable production is typically practiced in the dry season to avoid a build-up of pests and diseases, and allow households to focus on the production of crops in the main fields during the rainy season.

    Informal gold mining by youths, a development associated with serious land degradation and silting of rivers, is taking place mainly in the northern parts of the district. Lithium is also mined in some places. Some people from the southern wards migrate north for better access to income from  informal mining labor opportunities. Over the years, this has caused informal mining settlements to emerge. Young men and women are also migrating to South Africa after graduating school to find jobs and send remittances. Some households occasionally receive in-kind and cash remittances from South Africa, but remittances are reportedly below normal.

    Food consumption for very poor households is currently poor due to limited purchasing power driven by constrained incomes and high market prices. Poor households are mainly relying on one meal of cereals and dried vegetables a day with little or no vegetable oil. Some households are also supplementing their diet with seasonal fruits such as mangoes and some wild fruits which are not widely available.

    All wards are targeted for humanitarian food assistance by the government, with individual beneficiaries - nearly 120,000 people between February and March - receiving 10kg of maize grain per month. However, the effort is meeting some logistical challenges, including poor road conditions and transport.  

    Assumptions

    In addition to the national-level assumptions, the following assumption applies to this area of concern:

    • Informal artisanal mining activities will likely continue through the outlook period, contributing to some households’ incomes.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    Between February and March, the peak of the lean season, household food consumption is expected to deteriorate as limited access to income and high market prices constrain poor household purchasing power. Households are engaging in coping strategies to minimize food consumption gaps. Although the green harvest in February/March is expected to improve food diversity, food consumption gaps should remain present, driving Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes through March. However, in April/May, as the main harvest begins, household food consumption is expected to improve along with increased access to income from harvest labor. The increased access to food and income is expected to support area-level Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes as households are able to meet their food needs through the harvest and market purchases.

    From June through September, household dietary diversity and food consumption from their own harvests are expected to improve, with food consumption gaps reducing in the early post-harvest period. In-kind payments for agricultural and non-agricultural labor will likely be available to complement the harvested food stocks. Grain prices are expected to decrease, improving household access to markets. Households are likely to remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2) through July/August. However, around September an increasing proportion of households will likely deplete their food stocks and begin increasing their reliance on market purchases for food.

    Recommended citation: FEWS NET. ZIMBABWE Food Security Outlook February to September 2023: The start of the 2023 harvests expected to improve food access across Zimbabwe, 2023.

    To project food security outcomes, FEWS NET develops a set of assumptions about likely events, their effects, and the probable responses of various actors. FEWS NET analyzes these assumptions in the context of current conditions and local livelihoods to arrive at a most likely scenario for the coming eight months. Learn more here.

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